AL-MUKALLA: Four people were killed on Friday during a mortar fire exchange between government forces and separatists in the southern province of Abyan, local military officers told Arab News.
Government forces stationed in the Sheikh Salem area shelled forces loyal to the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council (STC) on Friday night, killing four fighters — including two officers — a government officer and STC media said. The STC forces responded by shelling army locations in Abyan, causing no casualties. The STC leader, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, mourned the four fighters in a letter to their families, describing the government’s attack on his forces as a “treacherous terrorist operation.”
STC media outlets said that the deadly attack was carried out by a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone that government forces have allegedly obtained recently. Local army commanders strongly denied receiving or using Turkish drones. “No, no, we did not use drones and we do not have any. We shelled them with 120mm mortars,” the government officer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News.
Sporadic fierce fighting and an exchange of artillery fire between government and the STC have occurred over the past couple of months despite the two parties’ commitments to adhere to the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement. The agreement, aimed at defusing tension between the two parties, started in early 2018 by including the STC in a shared government in exchange for removing forces from Aden and other contested areas in southern Yemen.
Prime Minister-designate Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed has missed several deadlines to form a new government as political forces wrangle over key ministries and which should come first; announcing the government or withdrawing forces from contested areas.
In Houthi-held Sanaa, Arab coalition warplanes on Friday targeted a number of military sites suspected of storing ballistic missiles and drones, Yemen’s defense ministry said. Warplanes hit Faj Attan and Ayban mountains west of the capital, Al-Sama military base in Arhab district, outside the capital, and the Houthi militia’s military gatherings in Jarban and Riymat Hamed military bases south of Sanaa, the ministry said in a statement on its news site. Large explosions rocked Sanaa as thick smoke billowed from targeted sites.
At the same time, fighting raged on Friday and Saturday on major battlefields across the country as government forces fought off Houthi attacks in the provinces of Taiz, Jouf, Marib and Sanaa. Local media reported on Saturday that government forces and allied tribesmen engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis in contested areas of the central province of Marib. Arab coalition warplanes launched many airstrikes in Marib, targeting Houthi military gatherings and military equipment, which enabled government forces to push back rebels.
In Sanaa province, a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis on Saturday from an area north of the capital failed to reach its target and landed in a village shortly after its launch. Yemen Today TV and other anti-Houthi local media outlets reported that the Houthis sealed off the area where the missile landed, preventing people from leaving or entering houses.
The current conflict in Yemen began in late 2014 when the Houthis stormed the capital, Sanaa, and later expanded rapidly across the country, triggering fierce fighting with government forces.